Star rating *****
The Skating Rink had its world premiere at Garsington Opera on 5 July 2018, based on the novel by Roberto Bolano, the music has been composed by David Sawer and libretto by Rory Mullarkey. I’m relatively new to critiquing Opera, however I feel that the simplicity of this production makes it an ideal introduction to Opera. The Skating Rink is set in Spain, however there’s little need to keep one eye on the subtitles as its performed in English. The exquisite diction from each member of the exceptionally talented cast and ensemble, combined with spectacularly dramatic portrayals told the tale wonderfully.
The piece centres around several characters; Remo (Ben Edquist), owner of a campsite, his employee Gaspar (Sam Furness), three tramps: Carmen (a former Opera singer played by Susan Bickley), her friend Caridad (Claire Wild), and Carmen’s lover Rookie (Alan Oke). Enric (Grant Doyle) is also a pivotal role, together with Nuria, a figure skater (Lauren Zolezzi). It’s a love story, yet in equal measure it’s a whodunit. The beginning offers us the crux of the storyline, as Gaspar is left with no choice but to evict ‘squatters’ Carmen and Caridad from the campsite, Remo has given orders and brooks no argument. Not only does Gaspar feel compassion for these women, he’s in love with Caridad. A successful businessman, Remo is in love, with figure skater Nuria – and therein lies a complicated love triangle as the troubled ice skater has also attracted the eye of council worker, Enric who’s issued the decree for the two vagrants to be removed from the campsite. ‘Fat’ Enric’s obsession with lithe, nineteen year old Nuria has gone so far as him having embezzled his employers to purpose-build a skating rink for her, her funding has been cut and without it she is unlikely to make the Olympic team as she has nowhere to train. One glimpse of Enric’s boss, the Mayor (Louise Winter) tells us that he’s taken an incredible risk and when Carmen discovers this risk – it’s not long before she’s bribing Enric in order to secure herself a house overlooking the sea with every home comfort and a job for her on/off lover, Rookie. Carmen’s tragic demise on the ice, the very rink which Enric has ‘gifted’ to Nuria, catalyses a ‘whodunit’ where everyone is a suspect.
The clever twist in the unravelling of the story is that each individual character’s story offers a precisely placed flashback which ultimately and almost unwittingly leads the audience around in a circle. Poignant, when you consider the pattern an ice skater’s choreography generally follows. This gave an overall impression of concentric circles spinning throughout the piece as each sorry tale interweaved intricately with the other.
Sam Furness is a revelation as Gaspar, the power of his voice surprisingly portrayed his sorrow as well as his determination. Ben Edquist made for quite the charmer as the love-struck Remo, the chemistry he had with Lauren Zolezzi who positively shone as Nuria, added an extra dimension to the love triangle. Neal Davies’ rich tones provided light, shade and intrigue to the character of Enric. I felt sympathy and frustration for him, almost simultaneously. Susan Bickley was cast perfectly as vagrant, Carmen.Her acting performance alone was beautifully nuanced but when coupled with her effortless vocals, she transformed the part into what I eventually viewed as the lynchpin. The particular continuity offered by Claire Wild as Caridad was extraordinary and drew my attention each time a flashback repeated. Her pitiful expression and wild eyes were reflected in the outstanding vocals she brought to the role. Alan Oke was played Rookie with relative subtlety, argumentative with Carmen which occasionally pushed him to the fore, however he is more vital to the finale than we are first led to believe. Louise Winter’s dominant stage presence combined with her dynamic, compelling voice was a perfect fit for Pilar, the Mayor who’s hell-bent on ridding the place of tramps. According to Pilar, they frighten the tourists and evicting them has formed part of her ‘manifesto’.
The music in The Skating Rink gives a sensational, incidental and gripping accompaniment to stunning vocals which convey the hopelessness of the overall picture in a haunting yet at times, comical manner. It’s set in the 90’s, which offers a more modern approach in the design and costuming of the piece (kudos to Stewart Laing (Director and Designer) and Hyemi Shin (Costume Designer). The set itself is open, with a transportable transparent box offering a backdrop to many scenes, innovatively back-lit appropriately according to the setting and quite a contradictory effect given that transparency couldn’t be further from the heart of the Opera. This proved effective, as did the glorious skating rink itself on which the ‘double’ for Nuria (Alice Poggio) glided seamlessly around the ice. A prominent shining blue star is suspended above the action, throughout, I felt that this represented both Nuria, the wannabe star and Carmen, the has-been. The production as a whole is palpably metaphorical and underpinned by poignancy which makes for a genuinely moving display.
If you can get your hands on a ticket for tomorrow night, that’s the final performance which you should definitely catch if you can. With luck, this incredible Opera will be shown on many more stages in the future. I’m honoured to have watched and enjoyed the fourth ever performance of a masterpiece.
Find out more about the show and book tickets for the final performance, here: The Skating Rink
Photo Credits: Johan Persson